The Duck of Minerva

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Peace Jirga

June 4, 2010

The Karzai regime’s three day “National Consultative Peace Jirga” is now concluded. As expected, the 1,400 member Jirga (and 200 guests) decided to proceed with a plan to offer amnesty to the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami — i.e. yes, the same groups which were firing rockets at the Jirga tent. The Taliban have made it quite clear that they have no desire to negotiate an end to hostilities until foreign forces leave. So it is unlikely that the Jirga’s decisions will create a path to peace. The main thing that the Jirga demonstrated was the willingness of the Karzai regime to compromise and negotiate with its enemies (President Karzai even referred to the Taliban as “Taleb Jaan” or “Dear Taliban”).

The Jirga, which was chaired by Burhanuddin Rabbani was divided into 28 committees. Members were apparently selected from 13 (mainly ethno-linguistic) categories to provide the appearance of a national gathering. Women made up a large number (reported at 75%) of the secretaries of the 28 committees and the head of one committee, but critics noted that very few women were given an opportunity to address the Jirga.

A few interesting points that I noticed from the Afghan press coverage of the Jirga:

1. Nurzia Charkhi, the secretary of the 3rd Jirga Committee, called for the international community to stop supporting foreign governments (i.e. Pakistan) that fund the armed opponents of the government of Afghanistan. (National Afghanistan TV in Dari from Kabul on 4 June 2010).

2. Haji Amanollah Otmanzai, the head of the 1st Jirga Committee, called for the (UN) blacklist of Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami to be annulled (no surprise there) and for the international community to press foreign governments (i.e. Pakistan) to stop funding the Taliban (again, not a surprise). The committee also passed a resolution stating that women’s presence in society should be ensured. (National Afghanistan TV in Dari from Kabul on 4 June 2010).

3. The former rival Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah boycotted the Jirga as he believed the delegates were not representative of the nation but rather the Karzai government. He also said that the agenda of the Jirga was decided behind closed doors. The MP from Farah, Malalai Joya (know to Americans for her appearance in the PBS Wideangle film “A Woman Among Warlords“), also boycotted it and called the Peace Jirga a “foreign project” and an insult to the meaning of the word peace. (Shamshad TV in Pashto from Kabul on 1 June 2010). Other notable figures not in attendance: General Abdul Rashid Dostum (head of Jumbesh-i-Milli) and Mohammed Mohaqeq (the leader of Hezb-i-Wahdat). Mohaqeq stated that despite his absence, he was not boycotting the Jirga. Dostum and Mohaqeq were supporters of Karzai in the last election.

4. The Taliban released a press statement arguing that the Peace Jirga was a British idea, since the project was discussed and approved at the London Summit in January 2010. The US and European hand were also noted in the “red line” issues — respect for the constitution and human rights — which the Taliban would have to acknowledge if they choose to negotiate. (Noor TV in Dari from Kabul on 2 June 2010). [This line of argument will probably strike many Americans as odd since the US military would far prefer to decimate the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan rather than start peace talks. However, the Taliban’s argument might make sense to some in Afghanistan — note Joya’s comment in the point above.] Notably, the Voice of Jihad website compared the Karzai Peace Jirga to Jirgas called by Babrak Karmal and Mohammad Najibullah under the Soviet occupation (Voice of Jihad in Pashto, 2 June 2010).

For those interested in more details, Abdulhadi Hairan has promised an English translation of the final statement of the Jirga. Wazhma Frogh also provided an excellent account of the Jirga on Twitter. Both Hairan and Frogh will provide deeper insights than I am able to do.

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Vikash is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. His main areas of academic interest are (post-) globalization, economic development, and economic freedom, with a regional focus on South Asia